RPG Design Books?
January 24, 2012 3:12 PM   Subscribe

There are a lot of books about video game design theory and philosophy. Are there any similar books about tabletop RPGs?
posted by adamdschneider to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Yes (although to be fair it focuses more on tabletop tactical games than RPGs).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:20 PM on January 24, 2012

D&D creator Gary Gygax recorded his philosophy of RPG design in a book calledRoleplaying Mastery but I don't remember it being as good as I had hoped.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:32 PM on January 24, 2012

Yes, quite a few.

Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games is the most technical one on the subject of design.

Most books tend to be divisible into one of two categories, designing RPG mechanics and handling actual play. Did you have a preference for examples from one or the other category?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2012

Gygax also wrote Master of the Game.
posted by absalom at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2012

Not a book, but there's a blog about tabletop/RPG theory called Ars Ludi. The author, Ben Robbins, would definitely be able to refer you to books.
posted by gingerest at 4:12 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Most books tend to be divisible into one of two categories, designing RPG mechanics and handling actual play. Did you have a preference for examples from one or the other category?

I was thinking mainly of the first category, but I am also interested in the second (I have, for example, Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering). Really, whatever you've got up your sleeve I am interested in!
posted by adamdschneider at 6:32 PM on January 24, 2012

I found this recently in a second-hand store, and haven't spent a lot of time with it yet, so I can't speak (yet) to its relevance and usefulness. But I'll throw it out there for completeness:

GURPS for Dummies
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:40 PM on January 24, 2012

I was going to suggest Robin's Laws. :P

Anyway, http://www.rpg.net/columns/list-column.phtml?colname=talesfromtherockethouse has a lot of articles on game mechanics. The game design forum is also a useful resource.
posted by vash at 11:59 PM on January 24, 2012

I forgot to mention The Forge. None of these things are books, but if you're not familiar with them, you should definitely check them out.
posted by vash at 12:05 AM on January 25, 2012

The Forge gives awful advice on game design, but it does give plenty of it. The occasional interesting game manages to crawl its way out of the pit, though.

Beyond the Design Patterns book, most other design advice is specific to one game or another, unless it's about play. For example, I've written a bunch on my blog about the design of modern versions of Runequest, but unless you play Runequest it's not that useful.

Actual Play:

Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley
Play Dirty by John Wick
I find Justin Alexander's blog to be useful.
Unknown Armies 2nd edition has one of the best explanations of techniques in play I've seen in a game book. It was written by Greg Stolze and John Tynes

AD&D 1e Dungeon Master's Guide. The DMG goes into detail about all the math and assumptions underlying a classic roleplaying campaign.
Designers and Dragons by Shannon Applecline covers the history of roleplaying games with some discussion of design.
The CharOp forums on Wizards' website (both the original d20 one and the newer 4e one) are not books, but are tremendously detailed lessons in statistics, synergistic interactions between modular components, and how people can fold, spindle and mutilate whatever you do. They're also full of people with a deep understanding of what kind of play these games actually incentivise.

In general, you're going to find a lot more about design on blogs and forums than written into books. A lot of it is part of an ongoing discourse rather than codified. I suggest checking out therpgsite.com, therpghaven.com, rpg.net, and if you have a specific game in mind, I can probably recommend some blogs or further forums.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:13 AM on January 25, 2012

An interesting blog post here.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on January 26, 2012

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